Advertisement

Germany look like a team intent on writing their own history

<span>Germany’s players celebrate after Niclas Füllkrug (second right) put them 4-0 ahead.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Germany’s players celebrate after Niclas Füllkrug (second right) put them 4-0 ahead.Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

That’s the thing about fairytales: they don’t have to make sense in advance. They just start, and implicitly we accept the premise, however far-fetched. A cruel prince is turned into a grotesque beast by a beggar woman bearing an enchanted rose: fine, fine. That pumpkin is actually a carriage: OK, fair enough. Anxious host nation on a run of horrific tournament failures wrap up their opening game within 20 minutes while playing football from the spheres: we’re listening.

And as the fireworks went off in cities across Germany, as the fan zones rumbled and erupted, as pilsners and radlers were spilled in pub gardens across the land, you could sense a nation slowly and happily coming to terms with its new reality. A reality in which the indignities of the past were buried under fresh flurries of fresh memories. The time for angst and introspection is over. Over these 90 brutally efficient minutes, Germany rediscovered its sense of imperial poise.

Related: Germany kickstart Euro 2024 in style and pile on the pain for 10-man Scotland

Of course we should probably mention the Scots at this point, so loud and proud in the buildup to this game, massed in huge numbers in the town squares of Munich, and yet severely lacking in numbers when it mattered on the pitch. Scotland were a sadly peripheral force here, a paper bag in the teeth of a howling gale, as inept with 11 men as they were with 10. Germany stood against them, proud Steve Clarke’s army, and sent them towards the Cologne Stadium, to think again.

Did Germany impose themselves here, or did Scotland allow them to? Perhaps the numbers offered a clue: no shots on target, just two touches in the German penalty area, outrun by 111km to 102km, outpassed by 655 to 193. Grant Hanley, brought on at half-time, had eight touches in 47 minutes. A long defensive shift and plenty of time chasing the ball: yes, this much everyone expected. But the basic lack of ambition, the inability to pass the ball through a talented midfield and work it into dangerous areas: for Scotland this was an entirely self-inflicted wound.

So when it comes to the tournament as a whole it is probably worth withholding judgment on Germany until they have played a team with a working pulse, or at least an ability to probe their latent brittleness at set pieces. What we can say for now is that the swagger is back, the options on the ball abundant, the attacking patterns well drilled by one of the very few genuinely elite coaches in the competition. Even Manuel Neuer had a fine night: you can’t drop a clanger when the ball barely enters your half.

At the heart of it all, as ever, was Toni Kroos. On television a good deal of the punditry was centred on how Scotland could have stopped Kroos from playing, invaded his space, pressured his time on the ball. But with Kroos, it’s never quite as simple as that. When Germany build up – and this is often true at Real Madrid too – Kroos is frequently the furthest player back. He wants you to press him. Or at least, he wants you to press him badly. To break the line, leave a fraction of a gap in behind, put yourself out of the game.

On the right, the tireless Joshua Kimmich. There was a time when Kimmich fancied himself the new Kroos, a new central midfield general for a new German generation. But it never quite worked out for him, and you wonder now if there is a certain wounded, beta-male pride in seeing Kroos so effortlessly reclaiming the position he used to covet, in Kroos now being the man playing the sumptuous diagonal passes and Kimmich the man shuttling up and down the wing fetching them.

But here they both were now, 10 minutes in, Kimmich making the run, and Kroos seeing it, and the ball landing in a perfect wide arc, and Florian Wirtz making the run to the edge of the area, and Kimmich finding him, and the finish hard and low. A triumph of angles and technique but, above all, of timing, of waiting, of taking the extra split second to make a good pass truly perfect.

Related: Germany 5-1 Scotland: Euro 2024 opening game – as it happened

Germany at their best play on those off-beats: moving the ball both a little quicker and a little slower than you were expecting. Ilkay Gündogan shoving the ball first time into the path of Wirtz, Wirtz waiting, Wirtz shifting, into Jamal Musiala, goal. Kai Havertz teasing Angus Gunn with his penalty run-up, hopping and skipping and finally burying the ball with utter disdain.

Three goals and a man down, for Scotland the second half brought only further mortifications. Germany brought on Leroy Sané. Scotland brought on Kenny McLean. Germany brought on Niclas Füllkrug. Scotland brought on Amy MacDonald. Germany brought on Thomas Müller. Scotland brought on the Falkirk Wheel and that weird horn structure by the side of the M8. The Scotland fans sang a hymn of defiance. Germany waited until they had stopped, and then scored again.

To play for Germany in 2024 – or really any big international team – is to be chased by ghosts of the past: the teams that won, the teams that didn’t, lessons from history and lessons from politics. For some teams this can be a weight across their shoulders; for others a wind at their backs. Here Germany looked like a team done with history, determined above all to write a new page.